Unsupervised man adjusted tower crane, which then collapsed killing men who were on the jib

Two workmen were killed because an unsupervised, untrained colleague mistakenly loosened the bolts of a crane, a court heard this week.

Gary Miles,37, and Steven Boatman, 45, from Reading, Berkshire, fell to their deaths after an 118ft crane collapsed at a school site in Sussex in February 2005. A third man was also injured in the accident.

The men were employed by Eurolift (Tower Cranes), which is owned by WD Bennett's Plant & Services. WD Bennett's had been hired to provide, erect and dismantle two cranes by Willmott Dixon, the principle contractor on site. Tony Ferris, who co-founded Eurolift in 1996 was in charge of health and safety at the site, but had called in sick on the day of the incident, a court heard.

Miles and Boatmen climbed up the crane's jib, 105ft from the ground to disconnect and coil in the cables used in the pulley system. Meanwhile, their colleague Dave Smith began loosening the bolts of the crane's tower. Once the bolts were unfastened, he signalled to a workman to slew the crane around with a remote control, to enable him access to loosen the bolts on the other side.

This was reportedly done at speed, and in order to counteract the movement, it was directed back again, but the crane could not take this counter tension.

Witnesses described the sound of creaking and cracking metal, accompanied by a noise resembling pistol shots.

The crane fell onto the roof of the school, which was being developed, taking down with it a second smaller crane. Miles and Boatmen were both flung off the crane and killed. Smith was found unconscious with broken bones, in the wreckage of the crane.

WD Bennett's denies two breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The case, at Chichester Crown Court, continues.